The oddball romance Silver Linings Playbook was named best picture Saturday at the Spirit Awards honouring independent film, Hollywood's last pre-game show before the Academy Awards.

Silver Linings Playbook led with four wins, including best actress for Jennifer Lawrence and director and screenplay for David O. Russell.

Lawrence is the best-actress favourite at Sunday's Oscars for her role as a young widow in a shaky new relationship with a man fresh from a mental hospital.

The Sessions earned two acting prizes. The award for best male lead went to John Hawkes for his portrayal in that film of a man in an iron lung hoping to lose his virginity. Helen Hunt was named best supporting actress for her role as the sexual surrogate helping him through it.

The award for best supporting actor went to Matthew McConaughey as a flamboyant stripper in Magic Mike.

In barely three years, Lawrence has risen from a relative unknown to superstar hero of The Hunger Games franchise and potential Oscar winner at just 22. Her quick ascent began with another Spirit Awards nominee, Winter's Bone, which won the top honour at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival and earned Lawrence her first Oscar nomination.

Lawrence said she loves independent film for the thrill of freezing with the crew in the middle of the night because they all believe in a story.

"That's why I do what I do. I love that feeling. I mean, I'd rather be warm," Lawrence said.

McConaughey, also a best-actor nominee at the Spirit Awards for Killer Joe, is a Hollywood A-lister but a relative newcomer to key film awards.

"I had to take my pants off to win a trophy," McConaughey said, adding that five of his last six films were independent productions and the "most creative fun of my acting career, hands down."

Hunt, also nominated for supporting actress at the Oscars, was coy backstage about what she'll be doing before Hollywood's big night.

"I will be eating breakfast and getting dressed," Hunt said of her day at the Oscars, where she previously won as best actress for As Good as It Gets. "I don't have any plans, but I'm going to put a dress on."

Silver Linings Playbook filmmaker Russell noted that his initial trip to the Spirit Awards was 19 years ago, when he won the prize for best first film for Spanking the Monkey.

His son Matthew, an inspiration for Silver Linings because of his battle with bipolar disorder, was a year old at the time, and was in the crowd to watch his father claim his awards.

"He gave me this movie, so I want to thank him, Matthew, for this movie," Russell said.

Silver Linings Playbook centres on the relationship between a man (Bradley Cooper) just out of a mental hospital and a young widow (Lawrence). The film is up for best picture at the Oscars, where Russell is nominated for adapted screenplay and director, and Cooper and Lawrence are in the running for the lead-acting honours.

The film's producers said they had expected fellow Oscar best-picture nominee Beasts of the Southern Wild to win the top Spirit Award and that they have no expectations of winning the big prize at the Oscars, where Ben Affleck's CIA thriller Argo is the best-picture favourite.

But they gushed praise for filmmaker Russell.

"Your brilliance as a filmmaker is without peer. Your spirit of collaboration knows no bounds," said Silver Linings producer Jonathan Gordon.

Austrian writer-director Michael Haneke's old-age love story Amour won for best international film, a possible prelude to the Oscars, where his film is the favourite to win the foreign-language prize and is nominated for best picture.

"I have the impression I am the oldest man in the room," the 70-year-old Haneke joked in a room filled with young filmmakers.

Canadian director and screenwriter Kim Nguyen's film War Witch was also nominated for best foreign film, but lost to Amour.

Among other winners:

  • Best first film: The Perks of Being a Wallflower, from director Stephen Chbosky, who adapted the picture from his novel.
  • First screenplay: Safety Not Guaranteed, Derek Connolly.
  • Cinematography: Beasts of the Southern Wild, Ben Richardson.
  • Documentary: The Invisible War, directed by Kirby Dick.
  • John Cassavetes Award for best film made for less than $500,000 US: Middle of Nowhere, directed by Ava DuVernay.
With files from CBC News